I have been asked by a few folks why I have yet to post about, or talk about the Steubenville High School Rape investigation, and the participation from the “group” Anonymous. To be honest, this particular story just hit too close to home. It’s taken me a little bit of time to digest, and even be willing to watch much of the media on the story – it’s a little like ripping off a bandaid. You know you gotta do it, but you avoid it as well.
As I disclose in Writing the Diaphragm Blues and Other Sexual Cacophonies, I have been raped and sexually assaulted at different times in my life. One sexual assault happened while I was in 7th Grade at Orange Grove Jr. High. I was attacked by some of my cross country teammates, and I am convinced I would have been raped if my mom had not shown up when she did. Worse than the attack was how the administration and the local justice authorities handled things at the time. I was slut shamed and victim blamed when asked by police and the administration whether I was wearing a bra or underwear under my track uniform at the time – as if a negative answer to those questions could justify the act of molestation. The boys, well they got a slap on the wrist. Me, I was left with a complex for the rest my life – if I don’t dress the right way, I am asking to be attacked because I deserve it. Today when I decide to go out into public without a bra on, I consider it an act of protest – a reflection back to when I was a bra-less child being held down by several boys, my body probed by their unforgiving hands.
What upset me the most was how these boys were coddled not only by the justice system, but by the administration of the school at the time (I can’t imagine the same folks run the school today). The justification? They were boys. Boys will be boys, after all. It wasn’t so much that the school or the justice system were saying they did no wrong, but it was their effort to explain why they did wrong, and how I, apparently, helped them do wrong (not being old enough to have Mom’s permission to wear a bra), that stuck with me. Further, a few of the boys came from affluent families – we wouldn’t want to tarnish those families … Would we? That would be wrong! Unthinkable! Afterall, boys will be boys… Let’s give the boys a good scare, and close the book. As for the young girl, let’s give her an “end of the school year” award, and call it a day.
What fucking bullshit. The award given to me was called the “citizenship” award, but we all knew exactly what that award was really for. As a scholar today, and a scholar on the idea of citizenship, I now find the award rather laughable. To defined citizenship as silence – an agreement to the way things are.
If I sound bitter, I am. Bitter, but it is important to know that I have forgiven the boys that attacked me and the school I attended. Yet I cannot justify and encourage a system that defends and justifies acts of violence under the “boys will be boys,” or slut-shaming/victim blaming rationale. Our society is filled with this kind of bullshit justification. Think about it, banks are too big to fail. Football teams are too important to let a few bad eggs bring them down. Families are too important to tarnish. This philosophy has done great harm in our society, not only from a personal point of view, but a collective point of view: economically, socially, politically, and philosophically.
The case at Steubenville is heightened by the fact that Anonymous has leaked videos showing the girl being attacked. Showing the boys laughing at her, carrying her around and partying with her seemingly dead, lifeless body. The investigators being protested for their slow and crude investigation say that we can’t let social media try this case. But the boys that raped and killed this girl placed their own trial on social media, in effect asking for a public debate. Indeed, on the night in question, they bragged and advertised their night of party and rape. Example twitter posts included: “The song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana,” and “Drunk girl – rape.” They advertised their actions on Facebook as well – they made this public!
I am not sure how I feel about Anonymous generally – there are times I have celebrated their actions, and other times I have sat there disturbed. But I must admit, I wish Anonymous was there to out the people “investigating” my ordeal in Jr. High. Maybe justice would have been done.
This brings me to the next question, is the discourse about this particular rape, and the information leaked hindering justice or helping justice? In my opinion it is helping justice, and it is also helping to challenge wide and long standing justifications of rape and sexual assault. Much of our justice system is silent on rape. We see this in the US and globally. With this case, Justice has moved rather slowly when the evidence appears plentiful, there for the taking. I wait to be proven wrong. Of course, I have no interest for justice to move so quickly that the gathering of evidence, and the arresting of guilty parties are done sloppily, not able to hold up in a court of law. But if these boys were ever worried about getting a fair public trial, without a jury prejudicial to their actions, they should not have tweeted about what they were doing nor should they have put Facebook posts out there. In the end, these boys ruined their own chance at an impartial jury.
For good or bad, I’m rather glad this rape case is being tried in “the public,” as well as “social media.” It is time to make the issue of rape and sexual assult a public issue. We must talk about it. We must discuss how for centuries we have justified the act of rape through various means: women are objects, women are things to be owned, children are things to be owned, he or she deserve it, he or she asked for, look at how he or she dressed, she really wanted it. She looks dead, maybe it was her last wish, we are just fulfilling her last wish (watch the video above). We rarely blame the person who has committed the act, or if we blame the attacker(s), we justify their actions …. “it was wrong, but if the girl didn’t drink, this wouldn’t have happened.” The public must see these videos. Yes, they’re hard to watch … excruciating, and heartbreaking. I sat there with my palms sweating. My stomach turning … teeth grinding. My heart pounded as I ran to the bathroom to eject my breakfast. The drunk boy, sitting on his rocking chair, laughing and giggling at her dead body, “maybe it was her last wish, to be raped.” How funny is that… Even drunk… How humorous. But I watched because someone, all of us should be witnesses to her death. Her death is for nothing if we do not bring meaning to it.